On the evening of May 14, 1948 Israel declared independence. Therefore, May 15 is marked by Palestinians and other Arabs as Nakba (Catastrophe) day (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nakba_Day). This week, AngloLibyan wrote a post about it (http://anglolibyan.blogspot.com/2007/05/nakba-day.html). Libyan-British blogger Mani (currently occupying the prestigeous position of my favourite opponent) commented, "Besides the plights and inhumane suffering of everyone in the world, this issue is the only one in the world treated with such deadly and disgusting bias". With some envy to the power of his expression, I copied and reposted it as my comment to the same thread. Nobody caught my irony! So I decided, instead of trolling on other people's blogs, to sit down and write a post of my own.
I agree with Karl Popper that frankly stating where you stand is better than even the most sincere attempts to be objective, so let me say right now that I am strongly pro-Israel. It hasn't always been so: in my school years, even in high school, I was strongly pro-Palestinian. I felt sympathy to the plight of Palestinians, forced to live under occupation of newcomers on their land, as we Bulgarians were "occupied" by the Ottoman Turks centuries ago. I wondered why Palestinians weren't allowed to have their own little corner, their state in the West Bank and Gaza. I was outraged by the number of children killed and maimed in the conflict. Because Israel had statehood and democracy, I held ordinary Israelis more or less responsible for every action of their army, while at the same time I didn't hold ordinary Palestinians responsible at all for the actions of Palestinian terrorists, as I wouldn't agree to be held responsible for another person's crime just because he is Bulgarian like me.
Over years, my opinion gradually changed. I learned more about the rights of Israeli Arabs and of the actually quite benign treatment of Palestinians by Israelis even in the occupied territories. E.g. look at the first image above (copied from the cited AngloLibyan's post, original source unknown) - can you imagine a Chechen boy standing in a similar way near a Russian tank and a photographer allowed to make a shot? I acknowledged the autonomy given to Palestinians by Israel. I appreciated the abolitionist position of Israel on death penalty. But what actually changed my mind was not the behaviour of Israelis but that of Palestinians. As the proverb says, nobody can do to you (a thing as bad as) what you do to yourself. I saw wide-spread Palestinian support for Saddam Hussein during the 1991 Gulf War; wide-spread support to terrorists, including terrorists specifically targeting children; using terrorist organizations as a substitute for political parties and electing their ringleaders; widespread and public joy after the deaths of innocent people at the hands of terrorists, mainly (but not exclusively) after Sept. 11; using their own children as mere weapons in the war against the Jews, if not conceiving children specifically for this purpose. I realized that Palestinians didn't actually want their own little corner in the West Bank and Gaza but a base from where to attack and eventually destroy Israel and its Jewish population.
Let me now, without claiming any expertise in history, try and write a brief historical overview of the conflict. I won't care to find and cite every source - it would take a month. Besides, it is not so important, because there is little real contradiction between the sources. They may seem as different from each other as Heaven is from Earth, but if you remove some adjectives and other emotionally charged words, the claims of Israeli and Arab historians and even propagandists turn out to be essentially the same. E.g. if you step across any gallery of Palestinians "heroes" and "martyrs" and show curiousity what they have actually done, you will reveal stories corresponding almost word-to-word to what Israeli sources say.
The conflict prehistory begins nearly two millenia ago, when after unsuccessful uprisings most of the surviving Jews were expelled from Palestine by the Romans. Eventually, their place was taken by Arabs, although this land until recently remained scarcely populated (small wonder - as Leo Taxil noted, there seem to be few territories as hostile to human habitation as the Promised Land). Although Palestine remained through centuries a dreamland for religious Jews and a special place even for secular Jews, during the 18th-19th century it seemed that most European Jews would be content to remain as minorities in the countries where they lived. However, at the end of the 19th century it became clear that a new powerful wave of anti-Semitism was on the rise (some authors say the landmark event was the Dreyfus Affair). An increasing number of Jews accepted the idea of a nation-state of their own in Palestine - the Zionism movement (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zionism). After Ottoman rule over Palestine was brought to an end by World War I, the Zionist idea of "a national home for Jews in that country" was accepted by the League of Nations. The British were given a mandate over Palestine in order to prepare the formation of an Arab state east of Jordan river (Transjordan, now Jordan) and a Jewish-majority state west of Jordan. The exact boundaries of this Jewish state were disputed "with conflicting and shifting British promises to Jewish and Arab interests" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_Mandate_of_Palestine), but the important thing was that Jewish families were allowed to settle and buy property west of Jordan.
As you can guess, nobody asked the locals what they thought of the idea. They surely had hoped for a self-rule after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and, knowing the strengh of (pan)Arab nationalism, I can quite believe Palestinians when they say to have opposed the idea of Israel right from the beginning. Most Israeli sources say that Jewish immigrants in fact benefited the local Arabs by creating jobs, which attracted also many Arabs from neighbouring lands to Palestine. I find no contradiction between these claims. Why not let somebody else build a factory or a farm and organize the production, then dispossess him and take the factory or farm for yourself? In fact, this is in essence what socialism is about.
Anyway, during the 1930s the Palestinians were surely seeing the writing on the wall. So they began to seek allies to help them get rid of the Jews. Of course, this brought them to Nazi Germany. "Within weeks of Hitler’s coming to power in 1933, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem got in touch with the German consul general in Jerusalem, Doctor Heinrich Wolff, and offered his services" (Bernard Lewis, The New Anti-Semitism, http://hnn.us/blogs/entries/21832.html; this is a must-read article). I have myself seen a photo of German Army officers with their Arab allies in a World War II-dating newspaper. Nazi Germany was eventually defeated, but not before it managed not only to carry out the Holocaust but to infect the Arabs with the virus of the new anti-Semitism. Although the Koran demonizes the Jews, the Jewish minorities in Arab lands enjoyed considerable tolerance through the centuries, at least compared to the ruthless persecutions in Christianic Europe. According to Lewis, it was the Nazis who, after reviving the medieval Christian concept of the Jews as carriers of "cosmic, satanic evil", introduced it to the Arab world.
A characteristic and somewhat puzzling feature of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the readiness of non-Palestinian Arabs to get involved into it. When in 1947 UN approved a partition plan separating Palestine into a Jewish and an Arab state, it was rejected not only by Palestinians but also by Arab states. (I wonder why they rejected it; you can see the map at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1947_UN_Partition_Plan - the territory given to Jews is quite meager.) After the rejection, Israel declared independence in 1948 and was attacked by Egypt, Syria, Transjordan, Iraq and Lebanon. In this war, Jews received about as much support from the world as they had received during the Holocaust. Still, they won. The real losers were those Palestinians who became refugees. Some of them were expelled by the Israeli army or forced to flee after finding themselves too close to the battlefields; but the majority were lured to leave by the invading Arabs so that to allow unrestrained campaign against the Jews. The large Arab minority of today's Israel proves that Arabs haven't been victims of true ethnic cleansing. An additional proof came in 2006, when Hezbollah commander Nasrallah warned Arab residents of Haifa to leave the city. Rejecting the idea, one of their leaders said, "The Palestinian people are especially unwilling to be refugees of any kind again" (http://themiddleeastnow.com/category/israeliarabs). However, while generally not expelling Arabs, Israel didn't allow the refugees to return. This shouldn't surprise anybody. By this time, it was clear that those Arabs who had fled, and too many even of those who had remained, were committed to the task of destroying Israel by armed struggle, terror and, let's say it, demographic stealing of the country from the Jewish majority by a birth rate typical for non-primate mammals. So it was a bingo for Israel that many of its Arabs escaped and I believe every Israeli statesman who would discuss their return should be sent to mental health counselling.
As I hinted above, the Palestinians were wronged by the creation of the Jewish state, facing the choice either to leave their historic land or to leave there as a minority. However, I think that sometimes justice isn't the most important thing and isn't even achievable for all sides. What is most important and achievable in all cases is life. I disapprove the fact that at the end of World War II millions of Europeans were forcibly expelled from their homes and driven to an exodus (the Germans from Sudetenland and East Prussia, the Bulgarians from Greece etc.) However, I tend to think that the victors, standing on the ruins of Europe, knew how to save the continent from an otherwise inevitable demise. They decided that it is better to do injustice to a minority by deporting it, rather than let it stay and be a potential casus belli in the future. Perhaps they were right.
However, soon after these mass deportations, in 1949, the Fourth Geneva Convention prohibited any future actions of this kind. In particular, its Article 49 states, "Individual or mass forcible transfers, as well as deportations of protected persons from occupied territory to the territory of the Occupying Power or to that of any other country, occupied or not, are prohibited, regardless of their motive." So, while European countries only years ago had conviniently deported populations regarded as security threat, Israel was not allowed to do so. In fact, as new states emerged in the post-colonial era, Article 49 was often violated. E.g. the number of Hindus forced to flee Pakistan is estimated by some to equal the entire Bulgarian population - 8 millions. But everybody turns a blind eye to such violations, unless Israel is doing them. The sense of collective guilt in Europeans after the Holocaust and the increasing power of Arab countries based on their oil reserves led to a special status of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is regarded as different from, and more important than, any other conflict. Israel is scrutinized, its right to defend itself is denied, while Palestinians and their representatives are exonerated of whatever they do and meet no demands. This is indeed a "deadly and disgusting bias" - disgusting because it is deadly and deadly in the literal sense, because it has caused the death of thousands of Israelis, Palestinians and other human beings.
After losing the 1948 war, Arab countries expelled their Jewish minorities to Israel. While this wrong done to the Jews could not undo the wrong done to the Palestinians, it presented the opportunity to end the conflict in a relatively decent and respectful way for all parties involved. Let's sign a "population exchange" treaty, we take your unwanted Palestinian refugees, you take our unwanted Jews and everybody goes back to business. However, the Arabs didn't want it that way. While happy to get rid of the Jews, they refused to integrate the Palestinians and preferred to keep them in refugee camps for indefinite time as a weapon against Israel. I think this sad development is due to the famous Arab honour, more disastrous and lethal than any other honour known to me.
The United Nations Organization did what it could to make the matters worse (it is good at this, although hardly at anything else). Neglecting outrageous human rights abuses and outright genocides done by other countries, the UN produces one after another resolutions against Israel. In fact, Israel has a second-class status at the UN (http://christianactionforisrael.org/un/status.html). While refugees of other conflicts are cared for by the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNRA), which helps them integrate and find new homes when return to the old homes is impossible or undesirable, for the Palestinian refugees a special agency was created - UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency). Even if the claims that it has become heavily infiltrated by terrorist organizations aren't true, it is true that this agency does nothing to help Palestinian refugees integrate anywhere. Some of them are already a third generation of refugees.
I'm not going to describe in detail how the conflict developed over the years. The Palestinians seem to have very perverted ideas of how newcomers to a country should behave. After Jordan accepted them, they tried to take the power, Jordan expelled them, Lebanon accepted them, they tried to take the power again and this destroyed the democracy and prosperity of the country. Arabs continued making wars with Israel and after one of them, in 1967, Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza. Those pro-Palestinian forces that don't dare to call openly for destruction of Israel insist that it returns within its pre-1967 borders. However, these borders are from military point of view indefensible - a fact which deserves more publicity and explains Israel's reluctance to withdraw from these territories. When Israel does withdraw, however, as in the recent disengagement from Gaza, it is not rewarded with peace. The Palestinians always use whatever land Israel gives away to them as a base for more terror.
I don't know what the collective Palestinian psyche was like at the beginning of the conflict, but now it seems even more degraded than this of the Nazi Germans. The latter at least made their living themselves while Palestinians are fed by UNRWA, by Arab countries, by the EU, by USA, by everybody. Nobody seems to think that Palestinians should make a living and raise their children on what they earn, like all normal people. Remember the discussion after the Hamas election victory: "Should we stop feeding the Palestinians to punish them for electing Hamas, or we should go on feeding them whatever they do?" In fact, the aid may be discontinued if Palestinians STOP doing things like electing Hamas (or al-Fatah - there is hardly much difference). Arabs pay Palestinians so that they continue their "freedom fight" (read: to finish what Hitler begun), while Westerners give money on the premise that Palestinians would become even worse if not fed, similarly to a friend of mine who, although very poor, always had a bisquit for her landlord's dog so that to bribe it into not attacking her. So the situation with the Palestinians is best described by the expression "Killing for a living" (the title of Animal Planet series devoted to predation). If they embrace peace, starvation is likely to follow.
With time, the problem is getting only worse, because the number of Palestinian refugees is growing (and also the number of Gaza and West Bank residents who are also committed to "freedom fight"). The 1948 war produced several hundred thousands of Palestinian refugees, now they are estimated to be about 4 million. Part of this unsustainable population growth is the direct result of unearned incomes: when people make a living on what they produce, there is no premium on reproduction and the size of the family is naturally limited; aid, on the contrary, is distributed based on the number of family members, so encouraging the least productive to have more children.
There is also another, more sinister reason behind the large Palestinian families: children are regarded as a means to achieve the society's major goal - destroying Israel; and alas, it is not only about outnumbering the Jews. Let me cite Leilouta, who is a witness rather than an Israeli supporter: "One of my mom’s Palestinian friends was in her early thirties at that time. She had 6 kids. She told me she was planning on having a few more. I looked at her with a surprised look thinking that she already had her hands full. She noticed my surprise and told me that she and her friends wanted to have as many kids as they could so they could go fight for their land" (http://leilouta.blogspot.com/2006/07/wein-el-malayeen_16.html). Another piece of evidence is the second image shown above - the so-called "Baby bomber" (copied from http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/2075072.stm, original source AP). This photo of a boy less than 2 years old dressed as a suicide bomber was found by Israeli troops searching a house in Hebron. The baby's grandfather said it was taken "just for fun". To me, it is scary. It means to tell the child, when he grows older, that Mom and Dad will be happy if he blows himself up among some Jewish pizza eaters.
Is there any light at the end of the tunnel? I don't see it. At any rate, it is not the idea of a Palestinian state on the West Bank and Gaza. These two small pieces of land, separated from each other, couldn't produce an economically viable state even if populated by educated and skilled workers, not by people whose only area of expertise is terror. They would suffer economic hardship, would blame guess whom and resume their attacks. In fact, Gaza already is an experiment of Palestinian self-rule and shows its failure (e.g. read what it means to be ale-less in Gaza). Nor is there any reason to lump together West Bank and Gaza residents in one nation - what is common between them and separating them from other Arabs, except that their anti-Semitism is really at an extreme level?
My personal opinion is that Israel must decide what parts of the West Bank it wants to keep for security reasons, the rest of the West Bank must go to Jordan and Gaza - to Egypt. Other countries must also help by donating funds and taking some Palestinians. Personally, although there is no group of people whom I like less than the Palestinians (and this post shows it), I would welcome several hundred of them as immigrants in my city. During the last year cartoon crisis, when masked Palestinian gunmen were showing muscles in the quarters of European institutions feeding them, I was very angry and thought that if it depended on me, I wouldn't let a single Palestinian set foot on European soil. But meanwhile the emotions have cooled and my intolerance has dropped back to its background level. So I realize, again, that principles must sometimes be put above interests and that, if we want a just and lasting peace, everybody must make some sacrifice or at least contribution.